Texas Blues (Bill Morrissey)

This is another song I did at that Passim Coffeehouse show in March 1983. I had just got my first mention in the Boston Globe, where Jeff McLaughlin called me “a superb fingerpicker and distinctive singer” — “distinctive” being a word reviewers use when they’re aware of problems but trying to be nice. It was part of an article on the Nameless Coffeehouse, jeff-mclaughlinwhere I was playing regularly by then, and Jeff was being nice because he was a friend. I’d met him through Bill Morrissey, whom he’d interviewed a few months earlier, then invited to stay in the upstairs room of his apartment on Appleton Road. Bill brought me around, and Jeff arranged for me to do some record reviews for the Globe, which started me on a second career as a writer.

I was staying with my folks at that point, and they lived just a few blocks from Appleton, so I spent a lot of time in that apartment, hanging out with Jeff and Bill, talking about music, listening to music, and playing music. I was also learning a lot of Bill’s songs, often just by osmosis, since they were so well written that after I’d heard them a few times I would realize I knew them. “Texas Blues” was special, in part because I worked up a guitar arrangement I particularly liked — Bill briefly considered switching from his arrangement to mine, which would have been a mistake but was nonetheless a high compliment.

Better than that, though, the song was a love story that for a while at least had a happy ending, and we all got caught up in it. Bill was single at that point, which was never his favorite state of affairs, and thinking back to a girl named Lisa who’d moved to Arizona, and he wrote “Texas Blues” about going out west to try to win her back. My memory is that he never actually saw her, but ended up in Los Angeles living in a garage and doing the starving artist thing, but I could be bill-morrissey-lisa-griegcombining a couple of different stories.

Anyway, Bill wrote the song and I picked it up, and meanwhile he had called Lisa in Phoenix and they started talking pretty often, and eventually she decided to fly back and visit over Christmas. The visit worked out, and soon she was living at Jeff’s as well. She and Bill were like a matched set, hip and funny, with the kind of private language couples sometimes manage, and I don’t think I ever saw Bill happier or more optimistic. They were both huge fans of the beats, and Bill was writing at the peak of his powers and taking lots of chances, and it seemed like he could go in all sorts of directions — he was messing with jazz and blues, and thinking about what kind of instrumentation he’d use when he had the chance to work with some horns and a rhythm section. Tom Waits was a touchstone, along with the Beatles and Dylan, and Mose Allison.

If I’ve got my chronology right, that all was happening around the time I did this gig at Passim, and I’d just worked up my arrangement of this song and was performing it for the first time. So I told the story and played it as pretty as I could,  and by the end a couple of people in the audience were actually crying. I never had that happen at a gig before or since, but we were young and it was a good story and an emotional time.

Lisa Glines adds:
I was in Arizona going to school for engineering while Bill and Grieg were chief cook and bottle washer on a commercial fishing boat out of Ketchikan, where he picked up his tale of the topless laundromat…. Those days in Cambridge were the best… of course it all began at Advance Auto Parts in Allston. He was the delivery boy and I was the inventory girl…

Cormac McCarthy adds:
Bill visited me 3 times or so in 75 and 76 when I lived in Steve Noonan’s garage in Santa Cruz, Ca. In 77 he and Grieg came by to another garage I lived in in LA. They had come down from Alaska and stayed with me till my savings were depleted. Then Grieg sold a Gibson F4 mandolin and bought a car and drove back to NH. Our friend Wes visited for a while and they soon left and their hitchhiking adventures were chronicled in the song “Barstow.” It was a “close to the bone” existence that did produce it’s share of songs. “Texas Blues” was the result of another trip to Gulf Coast we took to look for jobs on the oil rigs and related industry.